Livestock Research for Rural Development 29 (8) 2017 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Land fragmentation: a scourge in China's pastoral areas

V R Squires and L M Hua

College of Grassland Science, Gansu Agricultural University, Lanzhou, China


Rangeland fragmentation is a process by which a rangeland system is divided into spatially isolated parts. The degree of fragmentation influences the productivity and ecological function of rangeland, as well as biodiversity conservation. China has a vast area of rangeland (400 million hectares) -- one of the most extensive in the world, but it is also one of the countries where rangeland fragmentation is serious and ongoing.

In the paper we describe the status of rangeland fragmentation and the factors that have driven these changing patterns of land use. We suggest strategies that should be implemented for controlling rangeland fragmentation in China and comment on possible paths to land consolidation.

Key words: causes, rangeland, status, sustainable development


Fragmentation of land is a process that dissects natural systems into spatially isolated parts (Hobbs et al 2008). In fact, development of human society has necessitated fragmentation of land use. From northern America, eastern Asia to southern Africa, rangelands, forestry, wetlands have been converted for social, economic and political purposes. The survival of human society has depended on it as forests were cleared and land was put under cultivation and other areas were subsumed by urban and infrastructural developments. In China, Australia and Africa, herder and farmer livelihoods and financial viability are affected because rangeland fragmentation results in land degradation, poverty, biodiversity loss, and so forth (Stockes et al 2006; Flintan et al 2011). The fragmentation of land, in particular on rangelands, has become a focus of attention for researchers and policy makers. There are two dimensions: preserving ecological integrity (Woodley and Kay 1993; Pimentel et al 2000) and ensuring viable agricultural/pastoral production systems. The priority in rangelands the world over is to avoid further fragmentation and rehabilitate already degraded rangeland ecosystems (Squires et al 2010).

China has vast areas of rangelands. Some are located at high elevation in cold and arid areas (Han et al 2008). These alpine rangelands offer global benefits because of their role as a water reserve, a reservoir for biodiversity conservation and a germplasm resource (Longworth et al  1993). China also has the largest population in the world. The pressure of the population on China’s natural resources is obvious. Moreover, with the rapid economic development since 1980, China continually adjusted land policies on land to meet the needs of people and meet targets for economic growth. China’s rangelands extend over 400 million hectares (Mha) and encompass desert margins to high alpine regions. They have experienced five phases of different governance regimes since 1949 (Li et al 2005; Hua and Squires 2015). Rangelands in 13 provinces in China’s north and northwest were seriously fragmented from 1989 to 1999, in particular, in response to policies implemented after decollectivization (Hua and Squires, 2015).

In this paper, we describe the current status of rangeland fragmentation in China, and analyze the factors that have driven these changing patterns of land use. We also examine options for land consolidation and recommend strategies that should be taken for controlling rangeland fragmentation.

Distribution of rangeland fragmentation in China

In China, there are three broad categories of rangelands: pastoral land in the north and northwest where cropping does not occur, agro-pastoral land adjacent to rangelands where cropland and grazing land are in close proximity, and crop land in the eastern and southeast provinces where there are fragments of rangeland surrounded by cropland (Ren et al 2008). The driving forces of land fragmentation are different in each category. Based on the second national rangeland survey since 2000 (Su 2005), the most severe area of rangeland fragmentation is in the northern pastoral land regions of the Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions because of the widespread conversion of rangeland to cropland in the 1960s and 1970s (Squires et al  2010). In eastern and southern (more humid) regions, rangelands have been changed to orchard and woodlots. In arid agro-pastoral land located in northeastern and northwestern China, the residual rangeland has undergone accelerated degradation in response to fragmentation and misuse that was aggravated by climate change that reduced productivity. Figure 1 shows the location and relative extent of pastoral, agro-pastoral and cropland.

Figure 1. Distribution of rangeland fragmentation in China

Note: The yellow zone represents a region characterized by remnant rangeland in the crop-dominated southern humid area; the blue zone represents rangeland fragmented by climate change and conversion of land to cropland; the red zone represent rangeland fragmented by the Householder Contract Responsibility System (HCRS) and conversion to irrigated cropland as new artificial oases were developed on inland rivers.

Types of rangeland fragmentation in China

There are two types of rangeland fragmentation in China, that at the landscape scale and that at the local scale. At the landscape scale, rangeland fragmentation in pastoral and agro-pastoral lands was caused by large-scale land conversion to cropland. From 1950 to 2000, the area of rangeland in China that was cultivated for producing grains was 19.30 million hectares, which accounted for 4.8% of the total rangeland area (Fan and Yun, 2002). The largest area of new cropland was in the sub-humid regions bordering the rangelands. The better and more productive rangelands (deeper soils, more soil organic content, etc.) were sown to crops. The landscape of these rangeland in the regions was totally changed. Another wave of rangeland fragmentation occurred at the local scale where new use-right arrangements under the HCRS allowed individual households to manage their assigned pasture and to decide how many livestock, which type (sheep, goats, cattle) and when to graze. The different stocking rates and different entry and exit times of pastures resulted a more heterogeneous rangeland as the original intact rangeland became a patchwork.

Impact of rangeland fragmentation
Shrinkage of Rangeland Areas

One of the impacts of rangeland fragmentation is an overall reduction in rangeland area (Table 1). Vast rangelands were divided in pastoral lands. In the residual rangeland of agro-pastoral areas, land conversion of the more productive land to grow crops destroyed connectivity and led to the creation of many small isolated patches of rangeland. Since 1980, with the economic opening policy and the HCRS extended throughout the whole country, the burgeoning population created a huge demand for food. The HCRS allows farming households to manage agricultural production under their own initiative and together with pressures from officials to increase production, there was now an incentive to produce more (Hua and Squires, 2015). Moreover, the rangeland in eastern and central China was regarded as wasteland so that much rangeland was converted to irrigated cropland for grain production in new artificial oases established in inland river basins. Under these policies, rangeland area has shrunk across China, in particular in eastern China (Table 1). In 30 years, the average reduction in rangeland area was 9.5%. Moreover, there was considerable change in the accessible area for grazing, as livestock grazing bans were progressively implemented (see Figure 4 below).

Table 1. Changes in rangeland area in China (1978-2008)


Average rangeland area in 1978 (000 km2)

Rangeland related to total land area (%)

Average rangeland area in 2008 (000 km2)

Rangeland related to total land area (%)

Changes in rangeland area from 2008 to 1978 (%)

Eastern China (N* =61)





- 79

Central China (N=45)





- 10

Western China (N=44)





- 9

Grand Total






*N = number of surveyed villages (Data source: Victor Squires, Hua L.M., 2010)

Rangeland productivity decrease and cause sand storms

Rangeland are complicated ecosystems. The components of rangeland ecosystems are complex and inter-related (Squires et al 2010). Rangeland fragmentation, for whatever reason, including conversion to cropland, urbanization, and infrastructural development at landscape and local scales, damages the ecosystem. Fragmentation causes rangeland degradation loss of productivity and ecological function. Compared to the 1960s, the productivity of rangeland decreased 30%-50% in 2000 and the average body weight of livestock was 10%-30% lower because of malnutrition (Derjipalerm 1996). Accelerated land degradation, due to the cultivation of rangeland in northern China, caused the frequency and severity of dust and sand storm to increase. It reached a peak of 23 occasions in the 1990s, which damaged society, economy and environment in China, and even in neighbor countries, including Japan and the Republic of Korea (Lu et al 2005; Squires 2009).

Pest and weed invasion and spread

Due to the rangeland management by individual household, some householders overstocked their pastures and their rangeland became degraded severely (Squires et al  2012). On the degraded pasture, the population of weeds and pest rodents became very high and reduced the productivity of the rangeland. Moreover, due to fragmentation, the resistance of the rangeland ecosystem to invasion is weakened by edge effects (Woodroffe and Ginsberg 1998), which means more pest species can invade (Mangold et al 2010). Invaded pastures then become sources from which weeds and pests can colonize adjacent pastures.

Wildlife population decline

In China, rangeland, forestry and cropland is separately managed by different departments/bureaus. Under natural resource management, the departments divide the landscape into forestry zones, rangeland zones and cropland zones, and manage each zone separately. The resultant fragmented rangeland and forestry, and the newly created croplands have reduced connectivity across the landscape. Habitat fragmentation has blocked migration of wildlife, and interfered with foraging, mating, and other behaviors. Liu and Jiang (2002) reported that the population of Procapra przewalskii had decreased because of isolation of populations brought about by fencing the rangeland.

Causes of rangeland fragmentation
House Contract Responsibility System (HCRS)

At the time of decollectivization, at least theoretically, each household (HH) was allocated land according to family size and other criteria. There were injustices in land allocation but the system was progressively implemented across the whole of China. The HCRS was an effort to release the HH from the counter-productive system of the collective where there was no incentive to do anything above the minimum required and where everyone, regardless of effort, received the same reward (housing, health care and a salary). The imposition of HCRS ended this and made every HH a decision maker, but it also undermined any vestiges of collective or community management of the uncontracted or unfenced rangeland that remained. Each HH became a manager of pasture and livestock and each HH now tries to graze wherever it is physically possible to do so. The fragmented nature of the landscape under HCRS prevents sensible use of the land and using mobility to take advantage of spatio-temporal variations that were exploited in earlier times. HHs were allocated use- rights to an area of grazing land and access to water but few HHs are able to actually locate their allocated piece of land and there is often no way to prevent trespass grazing. In some areas fencing has been installed to demarcate an individual HHs land allocation, but many HHs simply use this fenced area as a private ‘reserve’ and graze their livestock on accessible unfenced land. In Inner Mongolia, where the HCRS was rolled out first, there is evidence that fragmentation of the landscape by fencing accelerated land degradation within 7 years (Zhang et al 2007). (Degradation in the manuscript refers to land degradation, which is a process of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land)

Rangelands vary in space and time. The traditional transhumance (chasing water and grass) evolved as a strategy to take advantage of spatial and temporal abundance and avoid the inevitable local or periodic shortfalls in forage on arid rangeland. By sub-dividing pastoral lands into small parcels and giving the management to HH who had new incentives to increase HH income there was no constraint on increasing herd sizes. This was further exacerbated by the setting of production targets by the Ministry of Agriculture in China to get a year-on-year increase in major livestock commodities (meat, wool, cashmere, milk, hides etc.). The quickest way to increase production was to increase livestock inventories. Numerous data show that livestock inventories in some places rose in a near-linear fashion in the decade after the HCRS was implemented (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Livestock inventories in China from 1980 to 2012

Pastoralism is a multifunctional livestock management system that has been argued to maintain soil fertility and soil carbon, water regulation, pest and disease regulation, and biodiversity conservation and fire management (McGahey 2014). Traditional pastoralism can not only benefit rangeland ecosystems, but also supports culture, religion and preservation of nomadic languages. Implementation of HCRS led to massive fragmentation of pastoral lands and to markets (Brown et al 2008) and to the rise of the household-based production system that has proven so destructive of rangelands (Figure. 3)

Figure 3. Land fragmentation has several causes, some direct and others less so.

A principal cause was the HCRS system, followed by redistribution of land (and livestock) after Collectives were broken up. Use-rights were assigned to households (HH). In this diagram we trace the factors contributing to land fragmentation and the road to land consolidation (see below). The three major drivers are (i) the stakeholders, (ii) policy measures and (iii) the technology to both improve production and to monitor land use and rangeland condition.

Other causes include infrastructure and industrial development (highway, bridges, railways etc.).

Land set aside

Is a factor in both land fragmentation and land consolidation but National programs like “Grain for Green” and “Return of Grazing land to Grassland” have the effect, in some instances, of consolidating land from separate households but, more commonly, fencing and grazing bans further divide the rangeland.


Refers to a system of physical location on the ground and demarcation on cadastral maps of each piece of land that is assigned a Lot number and a Title Deed. This facilitates land transfer, rental, land acquisition and other transactions.

Pastoral land in China became more and more fragmented (Figure. 4) as a result of a succession of policies. This is clearly an unintended consequence but a consequence none the less. Fragmentation across these rangelands has significantly impaired the ability of both people and animals to compensate for temporal heterogeneity in vegetation and water by exploiting its spatial heterogeneity, resulting in limited resource availability.

Figure 4. The process of rangeland fragmentation.

Starting from a situation (Stage 1) where virtually 100% of the rangeland was useable and livestock numbers were stable to the present day (Stage 4) where land conversion to cropland, encroachment by infrastructure and urbanization and unregulated rises in livestock inventories (more livestock on a smaller area of less productive land) has made it imperative to embark on a policy of land consolidation.

Conversion of rangeland to cropland

In China, there were four phases of rangeland conversion: 1950-1960, 1961-1965, 1966-1976 and 1986-2000 (Lu et al 2009). From 1950 to 2000, the area of rangeland conversion in China was 19.3 million hectares, which accounts for 4.8% of the cropland area. Overall, 18.2% of cropland is from former rangeland (Fan and Yun 2000). Rangeland conversion to other land uses (including cropland) is regarded as the dominant factor that led to rangeland fragmentation (Jia 2011).

The primary reasons for rangeland conversion were different in various phases, most rangeland that was plowed in pastoral land was after widespread famine in China in the decades following the creation of New China, the government encouraged farmers to produce more grains to solve the problem of food shortages. At that time, people thought rangeland was the best land for producing grains because of its vastness and flatness. For example, the Production and Construction Corps in Xinjiang was established with the goal of converting rangeland to produce grains – much of it in irrigated artificial oases. From 1960 to 1980, under population pressure, much of it created by an active program of domestic migration to the newly developed croplands with an agricultural policy that made grain production the primary mission the government asked farmers to plow uncultivated land, including rangeland, for producing more grain. From 1985 to 2000, although the first Grassland Law prohibited land conversion to cropland, the law allowed farmers to develop sown pasture on rangeland. Moreover, with the rising price of grains, householders in pastoral and agro-pastoral lands converted their best rangeland to cropland, creating a mosaic of intact and plowed rangeland.

With few exceptions recently converted rangeland was abandoned soon after because the environment was too harsh and soil fertility that had built up over decades was soon exhausted. Abandoned land has been the major source of dust storms, and the subsequent loss of surface soil and seed banks means that natural regeneration is unlikely.

Sedenterization and Urbanization

Conversion of rangeland to grow sown pasture, and the building of watering points and warming sheds are a basis for more intensive animal husbandry development. For example, in Xinjiang, the number of settled households in 2006 was 18.5 million which accounted for 78% of total pastoral households (Fen and Chu 2010). Since that time the pace of sedentarization has increased. As herders move to settlement points near to towns (where schools, health centers and other facilities are available), they raise their livestock nearby (often on unfenced and uncontrolled grazing land). As a result, rangeland have been fragmented into many settlements and the rangeland around the settlements has been severely degraded.

Besides the sedentarization of pastoralism, the infrastructure of urbanization at township or county levels, such as roads, railways, water pipelines, etc. has also been constructed. Such development destroys natural rangeland and adds to the area of land taken over by urban expansion. Some scientists claim that 44.63 Mha was lost from 1984 to 2005 (Lu et al 2009) when the urbanization rate increased by a modest 1%. By 2012, the urbanization rate was 53.7%. Comparing the urbanization of China and other counties (Figure 5), there is a policy that China will promote urbanization in rural areas. The process of urbanization has further potential to fragment rangelands in China.

Figure 5. Urbanization rate of China, Japan, UK, USA and Korea

China is moving into a new stage of economic development that will feature continued urbanization and more attention to improving living standards for the entire population. By the end of 2011, China's urbanization rate was 51.27% from the perspectives of internationally accepted rules and criteria for urban-rural classification (Zhu 2012). Urbanization not only occurs in big cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, but also occurs in small townships in rural areas. On pastoral land, the government has promoted the sedentarization of pastoralism, which is a kind of urbanization. In an effort to improve productivity in Xinjiang, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia, local governments have subsidized herder purchase or construction of homes to further sedentarization (Shang et al  2014).

Other Factors exacerbating land fragmentation
Renting pasture

Some herder households in pastoral areas have moved to urban areas, vacating their pastures. In addition, during land allocations some HH who did not have livestock were allocated lands, some families have become impoverished and lost their livestock, and in some families the children do not want to take over the grazing and livestock, and in some families the children do not want to take over the grazing and the parents are aged. They rent their use-right to their allocated pasture to other households.

In 2011, the area of rented pasture was 3.86 Mha, which accounted for 5.26% of the contracted rangeland area in Inner Mongolia (Hong 2013). In the temperate steppe zone of Inner Mongolia, each household rented 46.25 ha of rangeland and they also rented seasonal pasture for 3 to 5 months (Zhang et al 2010). In pastoral areas, ethnic minorities people trust the farmers who live in the same village --many transactions rely on verbal agreement. There are no formal contracts. In an oral contract, the renter and hirer make a deal about the price and duration of the rental period but there is no provision for maintaining pasture condition. There are no clear rules for renting pasture and few provisions are in place about land stewardship. Mostly, hirers over-use the pastures during the rental period. The rented pastures are usually heavily grazed by livestock and become degraded islands or patches and further fragment the whole rangeland. Neither the renters nor the hirers appear to prioritize maintaining the productivity of the grassland for the long term, at least as far as we understand the processes that sustain productivity.

Dividing up the family property and living apart

In China, there is a custom that offspring can inherit their family property after they grow up. Generally, a big family will separate into several small families when their son marries. The pasture originally belonging to the family also is divided into smaller parts (depending on the number of sons). From 1980 to 2006, the population of herders has declined in pastoral land, but, the number of households has increased (Figure 6). The rangeland has been separated into smaller (often uneconomic) land parcels. To compensate, livestock producers always overgraze the rangeland, which inevitably leads to degradation and causes further rangeland fragmentation.

Figure 6. Changes in population and households in Sunan County in northwest China from 1980 to 2006
Lack of rangeland supervision

Even if there was a suitable policy with simple guidelines, the fact remains that the proper oversight of the use of these vast rangelands is far from practical. The government set up the Grassland Monitoring and Supervision Stations (GMS) as part of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry in 2002. However, there is a widespread deficiency of enough personnel to act as watchdogs. In 2013, the total staff for rangeland supervision was around 4000 people in China. With 400 Mha of rangeland, much of which is located in remote areas, officials only conduct spasmodic supervision of the rangeland. As a result, illegal mining, rangeland conversion, and so forth that contribute to rangeland fragmentation have been ignored.

Impact of railway or natural gas transmission projects

With the implementation of the Western Development Strategy in 2000, infrastructure construction, such as the Qinghai-Tibet railway and the West-east natural gas transmission project has been funded by the central government. The projects bring huge benefits to society in terms of both politics and economy. However, these large-scale infrastructure projects also damage fragile rangeland, especially alpine meadows on the Tibet Plateau and the arid steppe in Xinjiang and Gansu. For example, part of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was built on alpine meadow with frozen soil. The process of building the tracks and the operation of the train brought about severe degradation of rangeland and desertification, which contributed to fragmentation.

Paths to consolidation

Land consolidation could happen if the 30-year or 50-year leases were revoked at their expiry date to allow land consolidation to occur. In the agricultural regions of east and south China, land consolidation has been proceeding for some years. The use-rights of 22.7 Mha of farmland had been transferred to larger farming entities as of the end of 2013. The transferred land accounts for 26 percent of the farmland under HCRS. The farmers who lost their lands move to cities for finding job after they accept some training, or they became the employees of the larger farming entities.

There would need to be safeguards though as it would be easy for vested interests (very common in China) to be involved in a ‘land grab’. The government has to decide whether to defer dealing with the defragmentation problem until later by extending/renewing existing 30 year leases to 50 years. This has happened in Tibet and some other areas. This would give time to develop better land administration and even access to cadastral surveys that are easier to do now with advanced satellite imagery, GIS and other technology. The downside of this deferment is that rangeland degradation is occurring at an accelerating rate and further delay in land consolidation may lead to irreversible loss of productivity, loss of biodiversity (including wild and endangered herbivores; there are 13 species of mammals and 183 species of birds in the IUCN Redbook for China). and the consignment of pastoral peoples to another decade, or more, of poverty.

China has embarked upon a massive urbanization program where 200 million rural folks will move to town and cities by 2030. There is a growing demand from the urbanized people for red meat. Some of this must come from the pastoral lands and the advantages of chemical-free food products should make it possible to service a niche market for organically grown ‘Green Food’. Grass-fed beef and mutton is in greater demand as China’s urban dwellers have higher disposable incomes (Wang et al 2017). China is in transition and even traditional herder HH now need cash to buy consumer goods, educate their children, pay for medical care and purchase motor bikes, pick-up trucks and build houses.

The social security system has been revamped so it that now provides financial support to older people as the traditional filial obligations break down because of the impracticality of adult children looking after aged parents who may be in a village 2000 kilometers away. These changes will affect pastoral regions as migration to urban areas accelerates.  China's national household registration system has historically limited rural-urban migration by preventing rural residents from legally residing in cities. In addition, cities often exclude migrants from social services and may have local regulations, taxes, or fees that discourage rural migrants. Cities are gradually relaxing these restrictions and the national government is encouraging migration to small towns and "satellite cities" on the outskirts of large metropolitan areas.

Off-farm employment opportunities as seasonal or migrant labor and skills training to train people to be drivers, hair-dressers and other service industry employees will intensify. Larger scale operations and value-adding processing (shearing sheds for wool and cashmere, slaughter facilities, leather processing, etc.) of rangeland products will be ‘push factors’ to accelerate land consolidation to take advantage of economies of scale and the better transport, electrification and communication infrastructure being provided across China.

China's agricultural and rural policy is evolving rapidly. Strict central planning has been replaced by reliance on markets and agricultural subsidies in the 21st century. China has an ambitious and challenging set of objectives. The government is using an array of subsidies, tax cuts, and infra-structure spending policies to boost lagging rural incomes, preserve social and political stability, encourage food production, improve food safety, prevent environmental degradation, and increase rural productivity. These reforms, intended to be beneficial and improve rangeland health and herder livelihoods, have created major “second generation” problems in pastoral areas (see above).

A number of factors currently favor a more community-centered approach to rangeland management in the more remote parts of the pastoral lands of China. For one, customary practice and native perception of resource use rights favors communal arrangements. Historically pastoral populations worked in groups to achieve economies of scale for livestock management in those harsh environments. These customary norms build community cohesion and can facilitate the shift for poorer households toward increasingly market-oriented production practices, provided that individual rights are protected within groups. Because of the inertia in the system and the loss of face involved in admitting that HCRS was not the best system for pastoral lands, it is likely that the proliferation of cooperative (Allied HH) schemes (Hua et al 2015) will achieve the land consolidation that is needed to best utilize the vast rangeland and bring satisfaction to the millions of traditional herding families who live there.

As Longworth, Brown and Williamson 1997 said:

“The pastoral region and its rangeland-based livestock industries illustrate well the dichotomy of policy interests, policy time horizons and policy implementation strategies, which exists between central and local levels of government in modern China. At the same time, the unique characteristics of the pastoral region mean that the divergence between national policy goals and local implementation strategies is manifested in ways which differ markedly from those observed elsewhere in China. In the pastoral region, the conflicts of interest between national and local decision makers are especially apparent in regard to the introduction of two of the major post-1978 economic reforms: the household contract responsibility system (HCRS) and the fiscal responsibility system. Both these reforms, while of immense economic benefit to the Chinese economy in a general sense, have created incentives for economic activities at the local level in the pastoral region which are not consistent with the national long-term goal of sustainable economic development”.

The incentives to which they refer are manifest in gross overstocking and rapidly rising livestock inventories. New systems of land utilization and governance are required that can better cope with the increased demand for red meat but also conserve the rangelands for future generations. Part of the solution must involve relaxation of the regulations to allow land consolidation to occur while still protecting the rights of the poor.

The way forward

Since rangelands are not homogenous landscapes, local communities and governments should have the flexibility to create tenure regimes that match local cultural and ecological characteristics. Fortunately, current laws allow site-specific interpretation while simultaneously protecting rights of poorer households (Richard et al 2006). The central government must also realize that the vast pastoral regions are not merely providing livestock products, but also ecosystem services. Therefore the past GDP growth-oriented development approach through increasing the number of livestock must be adjusted, and more attention should be paid to ecosystem and cultural conservation.

A feature of land fragmentation and consolidation in rangelands in Australia, North America and elsewhere is that the trajectory they follow is best described as a ‘J curve’ (Figure 7). The rising arm of the J-curve is presumed to apply to the residual grazing lands once the higher value land has been effectively excised from the landscape.

Figure 7.  Hypothesized process of fragmentation and reduction in scale in rangelands

In Figure. 7, the land that is initially non-fragmented (see also Figure. 3) becomes progressively fragmented, some of it becomes permanently and irreversibly alienated but for the remainder consolidation is still possible (as indicated by the upward turn). In some landscape types, at least, it is around the point of greatest fragmentation that degradation seems most likely to occur. The drivers of consolidation are usually economic. Smaller fragments of rangeland are unmanageable or financially unviable. The use-rights on such land may be surrendered and several uneconomic land parcels can be managed together to take advantage of the spatio-temporal variability that is typical of rangelands. This is the process that has been followed in China’s eastern and southern areas (see above). It is clear that land consolidation in the pastoral areas would be of benefit and allow more commercially viable animal husbandry to be practiced. Options such rest rotation grazing, control over entry and exit dates from pastures and rangeland improvement practices (fencing, re-location of stock routes, watering points and so on) could be rationalized and some of the attributes relating to livestock mobility that were a feature of traditional pastoralism could be restored.


The Project was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31460635).


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Received 25 May 2017; Accepted 22 July 2017; Published 1 August 2017

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